Are your teammates competent?
Apr 08 2019 by Wayne Turmel Print This Article

Do you trust your virtual team mates? I donít mean would you leave your dog with them for the weekend (you donít live near enough for that to be an issue.) I mean, do you trust them to put forth a lot of effort, do quality work, and meet deadlines? What are you basing that on? Are you suddenly second-guessing your first answer now?

One of the biggest factors in building trust is believing in the competence of the people you work with. Paradoxically, when physically separated from each other you need to have a high level of faith that everyone is doing their job, but those judgments are based on a smaller sample size. You need more trust but itís based on less evidence.

When you work in the same location, you can see how hard everyoneís working. You overhear conversations, lob questions over each otherís cubicle walls and engage in casual conversations that help you know that Sally really knows her stuff or that Josh is pretty much a chucklehead. Over time you learn who to go to, and who you donít want touching your precious data.

When you work remotely you donít have those organic, casual, frequent interactions. As a result, it can be hard to get a firm grasp on the skill level of your peers. Often the only way to gauge someoneís ability is long after the work is completed. Thatís great if everything comes in on time and with no problems. Based on that small sample of evidence, this person is obviously competent. But what if they miss a deadline, or something goes wrong? We have no way of knowing if itís that personís fault, if there was a system failure, or something else. All we know is that, based on what we see and hear, that person isnít up to the task.

Studies show that we are very forgiving of people we interact with frequently - because after all, anyone can make a mistake, and Sherry seems like a smart person - and less understanding with people we donít know. Basically, they get one chance to create an impression, and it will take repeated success to help overcome a bad reputation.

So how can we get evidence of peopleís competence? There are many ways. If your team doesnít use some of these tools and techniques, perhaps itís a good idea to start:

Take the time to get to know each other. In the name of ďnot wasting timeĒ we frequently eliminate the small talk and casual conversation that helps build working relationships. Even when youíre on a conference call or webmeeting, donít shut down everything that isnít directly work related. One way to do this is spotlighting a different team member each meeting, so that over time everyone will get to know everyone else.

Share wins with the whole team. Often, managers do a good job of praising and supporting individualsí work with that person. They may feel really supported by their boss. The problem is that because that conversation took place on a phone call or a Webcam conversation, nobody else heard it. If someone does great work, share that with your teammates. Help them get to know how talented their co-workers really are. They may not see it for themselves.

Use asynchronous tools to help distant co-workers help each other out. With distance and timezones, itís not always convenient for team members to speak to each other live. Thatís where social media, private networks and SharePoint can come in handy. Question and answer pages on the intranet are an excellent chance for Po to answer Daveís question, and demonstrate her expertise. When people go out of their way to answer a question (and the answer is helpful) we tend to believe that person is really competent and helpful.

As we have been teaching for years, trust is built on common goals, proof of each othersí competence, and proof of each othersí positive motives. How are you helping your team get the opportunity to draw the right conclusions?

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About The Author

Wayne Turmel
Wayne Turmel

For almost 30 years, Wayne Turmel has been obsessed with how people communicate - or don't - at work. He has spent the last 20 years focused on remote and virtual work, recognized as one of the top 40 Remote Work Experts in the world. Besides writing for Management Issues, he has authored or co-authored 15 books, including The Long-Distance Leader and The Long-Distance Teammate. He is the lead Remote and Hybrid Work subject matter expert for the The Kevin Eikenberry Group. Originally from Canada, he now makes his home in Las Vegas, US.